Eugene Shelter Perseveres Through Rapidly Evolving Pandemic

Mar 24, 2020

Credit Eugene Mission

As health and government officials move to enact new recommendations and mandates each day to suppress the spread of COVID-19, the largest emergency shelter in Oregon is trying keep pace.

The Eugene Mission began preparations weeks ago, when the first cases of coronavirus emerged in Washington, said Executive Director Sheryl Balthrop. Despite this, the shelter's been faced with working with fewer volunteers, as those missing are vulnerable to contracting coronavirus.

“It really does create a perfect storm here with respect to a more challenging environment to meet the needs,” Balthrop said. Balthrop said she moved onto the Mission campus to offer more support.

"Nonetheless we are absolutely committed to serving those needs because our guests that are here onsite, we feel we’ve been entrusted for their care and safety," said Balthrop. Pre-COVID-19 Balthrop said the Mission saw around 400 overnight guests, but that number is dropping. The Mission is now seeing a slight increase in day-users, which before COVID-19 was around 400.

To meet social distancing requirements set by the Centers for Disease Control and the Oregon Health Authority, they’ve shifted around dorms and beds. The Mission implemented new staggered eating times to make the dining hall less crowded.

They’ve also started mobilizing services to create more separation from guests onsite and those living offsite. Balthrop adds this lessens the risk of exposure for the unhoused who travel to get to the Mission.

For the most part though, Balthrop said they’re taking it day by day.

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